(In which everything becomes suddenly heavy.)
Judah and I were still having a torturous reading class when the kids ran to our room. Sandy’s bright face was the first one I noticed since she ran the fastest to get to our room first. She was wearing a Prussian blue shirt with an awesome print: Princess Now, Goddess Tomorrow.
She smiled at me and said “Teacher!”
I knew at once that there was something wrong. She usually addresses me on a first name basis especially when she’s happy. Or when she wants to be polite, she calls me by my first name and adds the honorific “Teacher” after it. But today there was just “Teacher”.
“Mom said, do many,” she smiled. I knew exactly what she meant but I didn’t like the way she said it.
“Do many what? You mean we have to do more activities?” I asked.
Then the lovely bell rang.
I walked out of the room as soon as the kids went crazy over Judah. Some grabbed his legs, some hugged him and some pulled his arms. Whatever the reason the kids have for being brutally affectionate toward him, Judah, I and the rest of the adult population in the academy, were clueless.
The admin secretary spotted me as I was walking along the hallway, ready to take a left turn to my phone classroom to check my instant messages.
“The manager wants to speak with you,” she said and handed something to another teacher. I automatically sensed what the discussion will be about. I went to the manager’s office feeling nothing but sorry that I wasn’t able to check if Alvin has sent me any messages.
The manager’s room never seemed to be a place to be nervous for me. It doesn’t have the strict aura of other corporate offices. With the tall cabinet of neatly aligned books, it looked more of an elementary school’s principal’s office than a company manager’s. Well, this is basically a school and I was never scared of the principal’s office anyway.
I smiled and greeted her like a good employee and she smiled back then asked me to have a seat like a good host. Then we went straight down to business.
“Well, it’s about the Little Sandy. Her mother thinks the book was easy and it could be finished in just two weeks. She thinks your class’ pacing is too slow. She also know that the Sandy likes you and tricks you so you’ll just play games and not study so you have to be stricter,” she said in a manner so slow it made my heart swell with anticipation, both of the topic of this discussion and her expected, incorrect use of an article, and urgency for the speech to be over.
“Madam, we do study. In fact, we are already in our second book. I agree that the book was easy. Our first book was even harder that the current. The problem is whenever we have a new lesson and we review, I notice that Sandy doesn’t remember what the previous lesson was. Also, she can answer activities, sometimes even perfectly. The thing is, she sometimes has to be reminded before she can actually start answering. And that calls for reviews. That usually takes our time,” I justified.
I knew she understood what I said when she gave out a sigh which sounded to me like “I know that but the mom’s bugging me.” I have always made it a point to include that Sandy’s retention isn’t very good on her progress reports. I knew that the manager was caught in between.
“What should we do about that?” she murmured. Then she looked at me and said “Well, the mother knows Sandy likes you very much but if this continues, she will have to change the teacher and she hates that part.”
The redundant pronoun confused me. I was tempted to ask who each “she” refers to but kept quiet. She continued.
“Maybe we can use that. Tell Sandy to be more responsible and obedient because if not, you will change students.”
I got the plan and suggested something more concerning for me.
“Madam, I hope we can also ask her mom to have review with Sandy at home. I know she’s been tracking our progress. I’ve been writing lesson notes on Sandy’s book and notebook.”
“That would be helpful.”
I went back to my room and found Judah being overwhelmed by the kids. I had to remind every single toddler that the break’s over and they’re no longer welcome before Judah was finally relieved.
“You are so popular among the kids,” I remarked.
“Yes, in Korea too. I don’t know why,” he said, panting. He must have been the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. He wasn’t a kid. He knows something was wrong and I told him.
“Oh that’s the child’s problem, not yours,” he sighed. “That’s the problem with children in our country nowadays. They are into too much studying. They don’t enjoy their good childhood memories because they hardly have any. Our generation is so much different compared to them. You know? That 10-year-old is just in elementary school but she is studying middle school math.”
I can only say “Yeah, what a shame.”
“I believe it’s because our country doesn’t have much natural resources so we have to focus on manpower. We have to produce the best and the brightest to help the country’s economy. Frankly speaking… “ He paused and was hesitant at first. Then he continued, “The Philippines is a poorer country than Korea but I believe the people here are better because they are so positive. They always smile and they are happy. In our country, people are very aggressive and competitive. They spend too much time studying but their hearts are empty. They do not know about the real human condition,” he said, pausing every time he has to look up something on his electronic dictionary.
“My father runs a business and he told me not to be like them.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Most people. He said he knew a lot of people who are very smart but not useful because they do not know how to deal with other people,” he answered.
“If you really understand your father, I think you won’t be like most people in your country.”
The hour-long break was bothersome. I knew that the next class will be full of pressure. And I was right.
“Sandy, you understand what you have to do, right? No more delaying tactics. No more running and hiding. You know why?” I asked Sandy as I carried out the manager’s plan.
“I know. But Mom said if we answered many, not change teacher.”
As she said this, she opened her book and started answering the activities; pausing whenever she has questions.
“Teacher, auxiliary and helping verbs are same, right?”
The two hours were religiously spent on lectures, activities and more activities. After the four-page review, we had lessons and discussion on paragraphs followed by a couple of writing exercises. Then we also had lessons on adverbs and had some more exercises. She asked questions now and was obviously not lax. But it broke my heart to see her write more quickly than usual, ignore Danny when he calls from the other room and look at me impatiently while we’re having our discussions as if she’s late for a lunch date. She also looked extraordinarily frustrated and bothered when she couldn’t recall a term. The ending: 10 pages on the workbook and several more on her notebook done in only two hours; and when she asked me to cover the next couple or more pages since we still have five or ten minutes before the class ends, I almost cried.
The class was fast yet emotionally dragging. Before we call it a day, I was able to ask her why the kids like playing with Judah so much. She said, “We like running and catching him because we want to steal his cigarette. Because that’s bad.”